According to a list provided by the Social Care Institute for Excellence published in 2015, there are multiple forms of abuse, some of which include: physical, domestic, sexual, psychological/emotional, financial, discriminatory, and organizational/institutional abuse. The importance of acknowledging all forms of possible abuse is to help bring awareness, resources, and aid to all victims, with exclusion to none.
While many abuse survivors move towards healing their trauma to become whole and healthy individuals, others may have to endure lingering effects of these experiences throughout their life. Repressed memories of abuse trauma, especially when experienced early, may also cause detrimental symptoms to arise, even when the experiencer of these symptoms is unaware of the root cause.
Identification, awareness, external support, and a willingness to heal are the starting pillars to making a difference between moving forward and remaining stuck in negative coping patterns. If you’ve experienced abuse of any form, check-in with yourself to see if you can relate to any of the following signs of lingering effects due to your trauma:
Difficulty in Social Situations
Social anxiety is commonly experienced and most people can share that they’ve been nervous when making new friends or speaking with someone in an authoritative position, for example. However, if abuse trauma is something you’ve experienced, it’s possible that introducing new faces and personalities into your life isn’t something you take lightly. Caution, mistrust, and fear are all factors that contribute to the deep unease that may arise within an abuse survivor in situations where they’re interacting with others.
Having your basic need for safety endangered conditions the brain to be consistently on alert for future dangers. You might have sudden repulsions or reactions to certain people that you meet throughout your life, especially those who somehow remind you of an abuser. Or you may feel extremely fearful of negative criticism due to how it reminds you of the mental or emotional abuse you’ve experienced. Those who have experienced maltreatment at an early age may develop an aversion to interpersonal relationships altogether, as stated by doctor Leonard Holmes, a clinical psychologist specializing in chronic pain and anxiety.
One way to self-soothe when experiencing social anxiety due to abuse trauma is to utilize body language to either subconsciously shield yourself when you’d prefer distance, or in contrast, use nonverbal language to display and absorb a feeling of comfort when you’d like to be social. In a moment where distance is preferred, closed body language – which includes crossing your arms or leaning away from those who make you uncomfortable – would help to communicate your desire for space. For times where you’d like to engage in social interactions, despite your anxiety, using open body language – which includes keeping your legs uncrossed or maintaining comfortable eye contact – could help you communicate your willingness to be open with others and will most likely, encourage others to become more open to you as well.
Physical Health Problems
Maltreatment and abuse can cause underlying physical health problems that arise a long time after the experience of trauma, according to a research study conducted in 2016. Researchers Bick & Nelson in 2016 also concluded that childhood abuse could cause impairments in certain regions of the brain to form, function, or grow properly. Fortunately, conducive evidence from this study also shows that the brains of children who have experienced abuse can heal with the help of appropriate intervention.
These symptoms are known to be brought upon the abuse survivor due to the early onset of extreme stress levels they’ve experienced, causing the immune system to be negatively impacted. Another health-related symptom that may point to signs of past abuse trauma includes experiencing somatic physical ailments, which refers to stomach, head, and other body pains that seem to have no identifiable cause. Additionally, eating disorders and obesity is another form of negative side-effects of early trauma, and unmanaged depression or stress in a trauma experiencer can also worsen the impact of this effect.
It’s easy for trauma experiencers to unintentionally develop coping mechanisms that reflect harmfully on the health of their body, mind, and heart. Check-in with the aspect of you that felt most hurt due to the abuse. Notice if you treat your body, mind, or heart kindly and supportively. Ask them what they need to feel properly nurtured, in case you were never taught how to do so.
Body Language Comprehension
Do you find yourself picking up on body language cues more quickly than others? Can you read the microexpressions that flicker across someone’s face? How observant do you consider yourself? These are all questions that you should consider when reflecting on your trauma experience. Most abuse survivors grow to become excellent readers of body language and nonverbal cues. This is due to their development of the skill originating from a need to protect themselves at a young age.
To keep themselves safe, it’s important for them to be able to read the facial expressions of their abuser. It’s also vital that they understand how to determine the intentions and feelings of others towards them, which then allows them to identify who feels safe in opposition to those that feel dangerous to their well-being.
This presents an opportunity for abuse survivors to maintain a level of control over their surroundings. When you’re able to read a person, the room, or a situation, there’s a greater chance of feeling secure in your standing. Knowing and understanding people’s underlying intentions allows abuse survivors to navigate the world with more confidence and surety.
Chronic Anxiety and Depression
An American study conducted in 2009 concluded that adults who had experienced child abuse were two and a half times more likely to have major depression than those who had not. Adults who had experienced maltreatment were also more susceptible to emotional dysregulation, which refers to the inability to manage their emotions or express them in an appropriate range to the context of the situation.
The anxiety can be rooted in a desire to self-protect, while the depression may emerge from a deep sadness within the abuse survivor. If you struggle with mental health issues that include anxiety and/or depression due to abuse trauma, you might relate with having intrusive thoughts, feeling stuck in an emotional/mental loop, and/or not having the motivation to complete tasks throughout your day. As self-defeating as these psychological blocks may feel, understanding their presence as a sign pointing towards an unlodged wound in need of tending might help to dissipate frustration towards yourself.
By separating your identity and definition of self from the mental illness, an opportunity to heal not only your self-image but also the narrative of your trauma can emerge. You are not your anxiety. You are not your depression. You are experiencing anxiety and depression, and you are entitled to create a life and identity separate from the coping mechanisms you’ve leaned into due to circumstances outside your control.
In moments of duress, your body’s immediate reaction is to protect you from harm as much as it possibly can. If it is unable to, your mind will find ways to detach or dissociate from the experience in an attempt to shield you from going into shock. When and if this happens, the trauma can become repressed and hidden from your conscious view. Which allows you to continue functioning as a human being even after your trauma, despite having experienced the danger you’ve endured.
This may be helpful for your mind to do at the moment it’s needed to, but repressed trauma can cause a multitude of side effects, one of which being emotional numbness. Ironically, as doctor Teresa Gil from Psychology Today explains, the numbness that might have helped shield you from dysfunctional relationships or environments early on could unintentionally cause you to have trouble functioning in everyday situations if that emotional numbness is maintained long after the traumatic event.
As an abuse survivor, it may be extremely re-traumatizing to feel again, and while it may feel safe to detach emotionally, healing and allowing for emotions to come through is also the key to pushing the negative emotions out. Keeping yourself locked in place means keeping yourself from moving forward emotionally and mentally. It’s okay to feel sad about what happened to you. You deserve to feel that. And you also deserve to feel proud of how far you’ve come since then.
Notice if you’re prone to feeling unworthy, undeserving, or if you feel comfortable maintaining a self-image of being a low-value person. If you do, there’s a high probability that you aren’t at fault for this mistaken understanding of self. From an early age, our personalities and self-image can be influenced by two outstanding factors: nurture and nature. Your nature is your innate persona, traits, and characteristics, while what constitutes the nurture side of your growth is the environment, your immediate parents/guardians, and the style of upbringing you experienced under their care.
Self-esteem can be innately written into your nature, though it’s also possible that self-esteem can be greatly impacted by your environment. If in the case that you’ve experienced abuse – especially early in life – there’s a high probability that your low self-esteem is caused by the dysfunction within your early environment. Do you put yourself down first so that others are unable to use your faults to hurt you? Are you likely to people-please to avoid conflict or confrontation? If you can relate to examples such as these, you’ve likely maintained low self-esteem as a result of the trauma you’ve experienced earlier on.
Though our environment does play a significant role in our view of ourselves, it’s critical to mention that your nature is within more of your control. It’s within the nature of self that we have the freedom to develop our traits and manifest our desire for change. Self-esteem is fluid, meaning it has the capacity to shift and transform, depending on how we choose to direct it. Indeed, the past can’t be rewritten in physical terms, but that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to rewrite the character you play in your own story. Instead of writing yourself in as a victim and remembering yourself that way in time, allow yourself to recast yourself as your own hero.
One that perseveres, overcomes and thrives.
Many abuse survivors share the temptation to believe on a subconscious level that they’ve been at fault and have played a role in their trauma. Abusers are known to use manipulation tactics, like gaslighting, to entrap their victims in feeling like their experience was somehow deserved.
“You were bad, so you deserved this.”
“You asked for it.”
“I did it because I love you.”
The earlier of an age that you were in when/if you heard statements like these, the more likely they’ve negatively impacted your sense of self and personal growth. And even while your younger or earlier self may have believed these statements on some level, know that you’re allowed to reconsider this thought: what happened to you, wasn’t your fault.
Be sure to check out our Psych2Go Youtube channel for more videos like the one below for more signs related to trauma:
Cuncic, Arlin. “What Is Dysregulation?” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 2 May 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-dysregulation-5073868.
“Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect for Adult Survivors.” Child Family Community Australia, 21 Jan. 2014, https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/effects-child-abuse-and-neglect-adult-survivors.
Gil, Teresa. The Long-Term Impact of Child Abuse: – Psychology Today. 8 Aug. 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/breaking-the-silence/201808/the-long-term-impact-child-abuse.
Jones, Brandi. “Signs of Repressed Childhood Trauma in Adulthood.” Verywell Health, https://www.verywellhealth.com/signs-of-repressed-childhood-trauma-in-adults-5211845.
Leonard Holmes, PhD. “Childhood Abuse and Neglect Actually Change Brain Structure.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 15 Nov. 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/childhood-abuse-changes-the-brain-2330401.
Loggins, Brittany. “Childhood Trauma in Adults: How to Recognize and Heal from It.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 23 Nov. 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/signs-of-childhood-trauma-in-adults-5207979.
“Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and … – Child Welfare.” Child Welfare , Apr. 2019, https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/long_term_consequences.pdf.
“Safeguarding Adults: Types and Indicators of Abuse.” Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), 1 Dec. 2020, https://www.scie.org.uk/safeguarding/adults/introduction/types-and-indicators-of-abuse.